Saturday, May 28, 2011

Updated Flyer on Legal Travel Options

Who can go to Cuba now?

Americans still don’t have freedom to vacation in Cuba, but travel for a purpose has been restored by President Obama.  Anyone with a serious interest in learning and engaging can find a legal way.

General Licenses

A general license does not have to be applied for.  There is no paper work with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in Washington before or after the trip.  The only action necessary is internal to the institution, based on its own good faith judgment and practices.

Any higher education institution can create a one or two week intercession, spring break or summer program that provides one credit toward graduation for its own students and those from other schools.  The only requirement is to obtain the normal standing for any academic course.  Also covered is Spanish language and other “study at a Cuban academic institution, provided the formal course of study in Cuba will be accepted for credit toward the student’s graduate or undergraduate degree.”  Schools that offer independent study may see that also as, “a structured educational program in Cuba as part of a course offered for credit.” 

Each student, teacher, adjunct or full or part-time staff simply has to “carry a letter on official letterhead, signed by a designated representative of the sponsoring U.S. academic institution.”

Graduate students can travel with a letter from a responsible university official stating that the trip is for research in Cuba that will be accepted for credit toward a degree. 

A travel agent or tour operator can assist a school in developing a course, but only licensed Travel Service Providers or third country agents at present can book flights and accommodations.

Religious Groups

Any “religious organization” at a local, regional or national level can easily authorize a trip.  Participants “must carry with them a letter on official letterhead, signed by a designated representative of the U.S. religious organization, confirming that they are members or staff and are traveling to Cuba to engage in religious activities under the auspices of the organization.”

Under the US Constitution, the definition of “religious organization” or “religious activities” by a government agency is problematic.  The faith and practice of established groups and communities should enable substantive trips with a broader focus than conventional worship with coreligionists.

A travel agent or tour operator can assist members of a local religious organization, or of a recognized body within it, to organize a trip to Cuba (and participate if personally affiliated). 

Specific Licenses

A specific license requires a written application to OFAC.  Depending on guidance from the White House and State Department, this can be a routine process for purposes of registration and general oversight, as during the Clinton Administration, or a time consuming obstacle course designed to politically shape or limit authorized travel, as under President Bush.  OFAC has published guidelines and new licenses have begun to be issued.

People to People Travel 

The category of “educational exchanges not involving academic study” should be the same umbrella that enabled a wide range of professional and shared interest groups to travel to Cuba before 2004 under their own or other’s license.  That included trips ranging from high schools to elderhostel, world affairs councils to bird watchers, alumni to dance aficionados.  Licensed travel providers will serve as intermediaries with both OFAC and Cuba for groups like museums, lawyers, doctors, and business people that don’t want to obtain their own licenses or lack experience and contacts in-country.  (Awaiting clarification is whether groups must have a history of organizing exchange programs or qualify on the basis of the trip for which they are seeking the license.) 

Specific licenses can also be obtained for workshops, clinics, performances and sports program.


Persons wishing to visit Cuba can either organize their own qualified trip or join an open enrollment program that fits their interest, schedule and budget.  Groups with general or specific licenses at present must either use one of 250 licensed US Travel Service Providers to book flights and programs or a company located in a third country.  In either case only three ground operators can provide programs for Americans within Cuba:  Havanatur, San Cristobal and Amistur.

For latest information on regulations and their implementation, contact or go to

Cuba/US People to People Partnership


  1. What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.
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